UNION GAP — There will be events around to globe today to celebrate wildlife migration, but the only one observing the Pacific Lamprey will be here.
It’s World Fish Migration Day, an initiative intended to raise awareness about the importance of open rivers and the fish that swim through them.
The Yakama Nation Fisheries decided to dedicate the day to lamprey — an ancient, eel-like fish that feeds on the other fish through a sucker-like mouth. They invited the public to help them release the last lamprey of the season into Ahtanum Creek.
“It’s an event for kids and adults, hopefully everybody will have an chance to release one fish from the bucket,” said Ralph Lampman, a lamprey research biologist with the tribe.
The event starts at 1 p.m. at the Central Washington Agriculture Museum at Fullbright Park in Union Gap.
The ecologically and culturally important species gets far less attention than salmon, Lampman said, so the tribe decided to use the international event to raise awareness about the importance of the often-forgotten fish and what needs to be done to help the species.
“They are prehistoric fish, older than dinosaurs. But in the last 50 years or so, their numbers are going down at a really rapid pace,” Lampman said.
Like salmon, the adults migrate to the ocean to feed and then return to spawn, but they have trouble getting past the dams, Lampman said. Lamprey can’t jump, so they can’t use fish ladders designed for salmon.
Some of the lower Columbia River dams have added lamprey ramps, he said, and the Yakama Nation wants to see a similar ramp built in Prosser to help the fish return to the Yakima Valley.
The lamprey sometimes get a bad rap because a non-native species has created problems in the Great Lakes, Lampman said. But here, they are natural and important part of the ecosystem. The adults are parasitic, feeding on the blood of other fish, but Lampman said it’s important to look at the big picture.
“The majority of their life is living peacefully in the stream,” he said. The juveniles recycle nutrients and provide a food source for young salmon.
This spring, the Yakamas released lamprey to spawn in Ahtanum, Satus and Toppenish creeks.
“We’re trying to bring them back to the Yakima Basin through translocation and hatchery work, and we’re trying to learn more about how to do that,” Lampman said. “They need a voice, more people speaking for them, so that’s our job: to get the right story out there.”